Adam Linson Systems Quartet

Figures and Grounds
psi 11.05

Moving simultaneously forwards and sideways, bassist Adam Linson extends his electro-acoustic experiments here with real-time interactive computer music systems which amplify the timbres of a live quartet of improvisers. Besides the sounds generated by the Los Angles-born, London-based bassist are those emanating from three inimitable stylists, two from Berlin: Axel Dörner on trumpet and electronics and Rudi Mahall on bass clarinet; plus veteran British percussionist Paul Lytton, who has long lived in Aachen, Germany. The results are as captivating as they are original.

Someone who electrified his kit for a period in 1970s and 1980s, Lytton’s playing is now all-acoustic, but characterized by the variety of percussive add-ons and techniques. His familiarity with processing, as well as his participation in many of saxophonist Evan Parker’s electro-acoustic ensembles means he can contend with any sonic impulse, whether created live or the result of time-delay, sound sampling or tone layering. Long-time partners in the band Die Enttäuschung and many others, Dörner and Mahall follow different paths. The trumpeter, one of the pioneers of microtonal improvising, here extends his brass palate with his own electronic interface while the bass clarinettist’s distinctive solos are strictly acoustic.

Often the textural extensions, melding and blending are such that there appears to be no perceptible transition from one sound to another. Techniques and evolving vectors mean that sound like electronic pitch or tone sequences are rarely instrumentally specific. At points they could result from horn expression or in some extreme cases from bass-string manipulations. The processes are taken to logical extremes on “Swamp Delta to the Sky” and “Invisible Mornings”, the CD’s two 20-minute-plus showpieces, with the former somewhat meditative and the latter substantially more abrasive.

Not that sonic friction doesn’t play a large part in “Swamp Delta to the Sky” as well. This is, especially true when Mahall’s hard sound pops and deliberate flattement are taken into account. At the same time vibrating clarinet squawks and trumpet flutter-tonguing, are, at least in the exposition, muted by calculated cymbal clangs. Electronic flanges mixed with consistent static from Linson’s signal processing are barely perceptibly beneath the quartet members’ acoustic movements most of the time. Later on though, high-pitched oscillations fade in-and-out of hearing until superseded by clarinet trills and/or trumpet grace notes. By the time a processed calliope-like tone signals the finale, gravelly brass notes and reed peeps have so permeated the resonation so that resulting echoes and smears are unattributable.

Distinguishable from other tracks by synthesized Sun Ra-like outer-space warbles and, processed solo sequences, “Invisible Mornings” stentorian and aggressive highlights promote contributions from individual instruments. Moving upwards from chalumeau to staccato shrills, Mahall’s chirps are matched by Dörner’s shaking triplets after a fashion, until the two streams of air blown through metal tubes become more percussive. Meanwhile Lytton’s clip-clops and rolls also transform from aggressive beats to mere coloring. Eventually the sound clusters split enough to demonstrate how individually circular-breathed reed lines and the hiss of jerky electronic actions can combine in a polytonal interaction.

Linson’s timbral understanding and application appears to be sophisticated with each succeeding CD. Considering that even this CD is more than three years old (2008), one is anxious to hear his most up-to-date developments.

—Ken Waxman

Track Listing: 1. Swamp Delta to the Sky 2. City Dissolved in Light 3. Invisible Mornings

Personnel: Axel Dörner (trumpet and electronics); Rudi Mahall (bass clarinet); Adam Linson (bass and electronics) and Paul Lytton (drums and percussion)